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Published September 19, 2013 Updated January 08, 2023

Rowley & Co - “Monarchs of Europe”

In around 1775 Rowley & Co attempted to reform the traditional court cards to portraits of the kings and queens of England, France, Spain and Russia.

1775 United Kingdom Rowley & Co. Courts Historical Royalty Suits Add to Collection

a pack of cards in which the antiquated and grotesque are rejected...

Perhaps following trends on the Continent, between 1774 and 1776 Rowley & Co. of London endeavoured to reform the traditional court cards in English playing cards with portraits of the kings and queens of England, France, Spain and Russia with their attendants as Knaves, and with the customary suit symbols changed to spearheads, chalices, trefoils, and topaz, coloured black, red, green and orange. Additional allegorical imagery on the Aces suggests “the four classes of men into which every kingdom is divided: the Nobles, the Clergy, the Citizens and the Peasantry”.

The Ace of Spades on English playing cards usually carried the maker's name, but did not carry the treasury duty until 1765. After this it also had a die number. In this example of Rowley & Co's pack the Ace of Spades is nameless and with no duty or die number, which is unusual. One explanation is that early editions may have had a nameless Ace of Spades; or it may have been a proof submitted to the Stamp Office for the real Ace to be made. Alternatively it may have been an attempt to evade paying the official duty. The rest of the pack appears to be perfectly legitimate.

Rowley & Co's copper-engraved “Monarchs of Europe” non-standard playing cards published c.1774-1776

Above: Rowley & Co's copper-engraved “Monarchs of Europe” non-standard playing cards published c.1774-1776. Rowley & Co operated at No.6 in the Old Bailey, London. Images courtesy Dan Dragojevich. Additional research courtesy John Sings and Ken Lodge.

“The designs are entirely new, the joint endeavour of several respectable artists, studious to please, and emulous to outvie everything of this kind which has appeared before. Upon the whole, they are submitted to the public as a pack of cards, in which the antiquated and grotesque are rejected, the misnomers explained and removed, and much of the original meaning of the inventor revived...”

Full explanation for the design of the pack...

Below is a typescript of an advertisement for Rowley's cards which contains a rationale for the design of the pack:

Rowley & Co's copper-engraved “Monarchs of Europe” non-standard playing cards published c.1774-1776
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By Simon Wintle

Member since February 01, 1996

Founder and editor of the World of Playing Cards since 1996. He is a former committee member of the IPCS and was graphics editor of The Playing-Card journal for many years. He has lived at various times in Chile, England and Wales and is currently living in Extremadura, Spain. Simon's first limited edition pack of playing cards was a replica of a seventeenth century traditional English pack, which he produced from woodblocks and stencils.

1 comments

DJ .Pigott's Avatar'

The patent James Rowley used was granted in 1772, patent number 1012 granted on April 7th. It lists him as a wine merchant, which leads to the speculation as to whether the driving force was to make better cards for playing, rather than a printer advancing the art.
In the absence of a picture, here is the text of the patent:
"A grant unto James Rowley, of the parish of Saint Martin Ludgate, in the city of London, wine merchant, of his new invented method of making playing cards, printed from engravings on copper, after entire new designs, in oil colours, with a peculiar kind of ink which will bear the leesing or polish necessary to be given to playing cards, which no other ink known to the printers or card makers is capable of; to hold to him, his executors, admors, & asss, within England, Wales, & town of Berwick-upon-Tweed for the term of 14 years pursuant to the statute; with a clause to inroll the same within four calendar months from the date hereof. W. H. M. at Westmr, the 7th day of April, in the year above. By writ, &c."

it's in the Internet Archive here https://archive.org/details/chronologicalin1617grea_0/page/182/mode/1up


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